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Kenny v. University of Delaware

United States District Court, D. Delaware

February 22, 2018

BONNIE J. KENNY, Plaintiff,
UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE, et al. Defendants.


         Plaintiff filed this action against Defendants claiming violations of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (Counts I and II), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 623 (Count III), the Delaware Discrimination in Employment Act pursuant to 19 Del. C. § 711(a) (Counts III, IV, and V), and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (Count VI). (D.I. 1 at ¶ 1). Presently before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss all counts of Plaintiff s Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (D.I. 6). The issues have been fully briefed. (D.I. 7, 9, 11). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion is GRANTED as to Counts I and II and DENIED as to Counts III, IV, V, and VI.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This dispute arises out of Plaintiff Bonnie J. Kenny's termination of employment from the University of Delaware ("UD") in October 2016 at which time she was 54 years old. (D.I. 1 at ¶¶ 1, 4). Kenny began her employment as the head coach of the women's volleyball team at UD in February 2002. (Id. at ¶ 10). The Complaint describes Kenny's tenure at UD as "successful" and lists the many accomplishments of the volleyball team with her leadership. (Id. at ¶ 11, 12). Additionally, the Complaint states Kenny consistently received excellent performance evaluations during her time at UD. (Id. at ¶ 15). In November of 2013, Kenny married the assistant women's volleyball coach, Ms. Cindy Gregory. (Id. at ¶ 16). The Complaint alleges that all Defendants knew of the marriage. (Id.)

         On October 3, 2016, UD and Kenny received a complaint from a parent alleging Kenny mistreated a player. (Id. at ¶ 18). Two days later, Kenny met with Defendants Chrissi Rawak, UD Athletic Director, and Thomas LaPenta, UD Human Resources Director, to discuss the complaint. (Id. at ¶¶ 20-21). At that meeting, Rawak and LaPenta stated they must investigate the complaint while placing Kenny on paid suspension, but also offered Kenny the option of resigning with one year's salary and benefits. (Id. at ¶¶ 21-22). On October 11, 2016, Kenny informed UD that she wished to go forward with the investigation. (Id. at ¶ 27). A UD athletics spokesperson confirmed to the News Journal that Kenny was placed on leave and refused any other comment. (Id. at ¶ 28).

         UD terminated Kenny without cause, as permitted by her employment contract, on October 13, 2016. (Id. at ¶ 33). UD did not conduct an investigation into the complaint filed ten days earlier, despite UD Policy 4-29 setting forth the procedure UD would adhere to when investigating a complaint. (Id. at ¶¶ 26, 33). UD claimed its decision to terminate Kenny was due to three previous losing seasons, although UD did not make public statements regarding Kenny's termination. (Id. at ¶¶ 32, 34). Approximately seven months later, an article appeared in the UD student newspaper with opinions from former UD women's volleyball players. (Id. at ¶ 35). These opinions provided a mostly negative picture of Kenny and her coaching. (Id. at ¶ 36).

         Kenny's termination occurred in the middle of the regular volleyball season which, she asserts, damaged her reputation. (Id. at ¶¶ 33-34). Kenny also alleges that UD's silence to the press and the student newspaper article damaged her reputation further. (Id. at ¶ 39). Thus, Kenny asserts she was entitled to the investigation described in UD Policy 4-29, as well as a name-clearing hearing to protect her damaged reputation. (Id. at ¶¶ 33, 62).

         Kenny alleges that her termination was motivated by discrimination based on her age, sexual orientation, and marital status. (Id. at ¶¶ 73, 79, 85). After UD terminated Kenny's employment, it replaced her with a 38 year old head coach. (Id. at ¶ 51). Over Kenny's tenure, UD terminated five other female coaches over the age of 40. (Id. at ¶ 49). Additionally, four of those five coaches were homosexual. (Id. at ¶ 50). Since Defendant Rawak's appointment as UD Athletic Director in May 2016, she has only hired coaches who are heterosexual, are married or divorced, and have children. (Id. at ¶ 52). Additionally, after Kenny's termination, her employment agreement required UD to pay her base salary for three years. (Id. at ¶ 43). Her spouse, Ms. Gregory, also received UD health coverage. In January 2017, however, UD terminated Ms. Gregory's health coverage. (Id. at ¶ 47). UD continued to provide health coverage to the spouses of two heterosexual male coaches during the time they received their regular base pay after their terminations. (Id. at ¶ 48).

         In March 2017, Kenny filed charges of discrimination with the Delaware Department of Labor (the "DDOL") and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the "EEOC"). (Id. at ¶ 30). In June 2017, the DDOL and EEOC issued Kenny Right to Sue Notices. (D.I. 1-1 at 2, 5).


         Rule 8 requires a complainant to provide "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief" Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Rule 12(b)(6) allows the accused party to bring a motion to dismiss the claim for failing to meet this standard. A Rule 12(b)(6) motion may be granted only if, accepting the well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and viewing them in the light most favorable to the complainant, a court concludes that those allegations "could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 558 (2007).

         "Though 'detailed factual allegations' are not required, a complaint must do more than simply provide 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.'" Davis v. Abington Mem'l Hosp., 765 F.3d 236, 241 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). I am "not required to credit bald assertions or legal conclusions improperly alleged in the complaint." In re Rockefeller Ctr. Props., Inc. Sec. Litig., 311 F.3d 198, 216 (3d Cir. 2002). A complaint may not be dismissed, however, "for imperfect statement of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted." Johnson v. City of Shelby, 135 S.Ct. 346, 346 (2014).

         A complainant must plead facts sufficient to show that a claim has "substantive plausibility." Id. at 347. That plausibility must be found on the face of the complaint. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). "A claim has facial plausibility when the [complainant] pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the [accused] is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Deciding whether a claim is plausible will be a "context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. at 679.


         A. Violation of the Due ...

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